A Refreshing Example

Over the last decade, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has effectively promoted sustainability across the university, municipal and office landscapes. But for warehouse and distribution centers, implementation has been a bit more challenging. 

Without an official LEED rating system tailored for warehouse and distribution centers, industry leaders have had to adapt traditional LEED models to meet rising marketplace demands for sustainable design. While daunting, to date such adaptation has proven successful – as evidenced by innovative projects like the LEED Silver Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center in South Brunswick, NJ, designed by KSS Architects for Forsgate Industrial Partners

With the pending approval of LEED v4, warehouse and distribution centers will finally be getting standards of their own, thanks in large part to the research, analysis, and market focus work of KSS Architects, sponsored by NAIOP, who started to identify such changes as far back as 2006. Many of the key principles acknowledged during this exercise have already found their way into today’s industrial design. As the market demands more energy efficiency, more daylight, more thermal comfort, and careful site selection/planning, sustainable warehouses and distribution centers have become reality. 

Providing a new LEED rating system for warehouse and distribution centers is not about making LEED easier to attain. It’s about providing a path for warehouse and distribution centers to meet the challenges of LEED. A system that responds to the unique opportunities within this building type will further sustainable design and development across the industrial landscape. 

Inspiring Change

Several years ago, KSS Architects embarked on mission to understand how sustainable design could be applied to warehouse and distribution centers in a meaningful way. With a grant from NAIOP, we chose to examine LEED rating system given its ubiquity and prevalence. Our conclusion? LEED could be used for warehouse and distribution centers with some modification to better align the sustainable principles that apply in a manner unique to distribution centers. 

To share our findings, we put together a report for NAIOP that looked carefully at the overall issues that set warehouse and distribution centers apart from other building types in relation to sustainability and identified ways to incorporate sustainable design that paralleled the intent of the LEED rating system. KSS and NAIOP then approached the USGBC, who enthusiastically embraced the concept of creating a market-specific rating system for warehouse and distribution centers. 

Convening a group of architects, engineers, building users and development partners, KSS and NAIOP identified specific LEED credits to modify/eliminate. Through the process in 2008, three main areas of difference emerged: Site impact, daylighting and views, and workplace demand for more comfort. It was recognized that in focusing in these areas, the greatest sustainability value could be realized by adapting standards to meet the unique aspects of warehouse and distribution centers. 

Unique Challenges

While not all of the proposed changes were included in LEED v4, there are modifications that respond to the market-driven suggestions made and offer opportunities within the unique characteristics of distribution centers. 

Site planning – Site planning and response to urban opportunity and industrial heritage are sustainable design aspects distinctive of distribution centers. Industrial development has the potential to revitalize former contaminated lands, which is a good use in terms of restoring the environment and in providing an economic base to towns. Better land planning leads to reduced energy use throughout the entire supply chain, further extending the sustainable impact. Yet it is clear that industrial buildings, while a critical part of an urban plan, occupy and urban landscape differently with differing needs for land mass and infrastructure. The new LEED v4 rating system recognizes industrial development for its unique opportunity to be a part of a larger, brownfield remediation plan. 

Daylighting – Lighting makes up an enormous percentage of overall energy use in a warehouse. Replacing high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures and incorporating occupancy sensors can significantly reduce energy usage and have early paybacks. Daylighting strategies can have a significant impact on energy use and the quality of the environment. Employed correctly, the daytime needs of an entire facility can be met with daylight. Yet daylighting space in a warehouse is different than in an office. To encourage a significant sustainability impact, there needs to be an emphasis on energy and an understanding of sourcing in a large volume. In LEED v4, the bulk storage, sorting, and distribution portions of a building must meet daylight and quality views requirements for 25 percent of the regularly occupied floor area. 

Energy & Thermal Comfort – Distribution centers are no longer huge expanses of empty storage. They are active workplaces. Building users expect and deserve workplace environments to have thermal comfort. Systems like radiant flooring, circulating fans for destratification, passive systems such as nighttime air, heat venting and/or wind flow, localized active cooling or heating systems, and localized, hard-wired fans to provide air movement for occupant comfort can have a significant impact. Understanding the unique energy characteristics of warehouses, the LEED v4 system offers the benchmark of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool or ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010, as well as the benchmark of national or historical average data for energy performance. 

Live Positively

Even without LEED v4, many of today’s sustainable warehouse and distribution centers are pushing the envelope, incorporating strategies and techniques identified through KSS’ market research and the LEED modification process. 

The new Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center in South Brunswick, NJ, developed by Forsgate Industrial Partners, is one of Coca-Cola’s largest distribution centers in the U.S. It consolidates operations from Neptune, North Brunswick and Parsippany, NJ. Home to a staff of about 650 drivers, merchandisers, account managers, distribution, sales and warehouse personnel, the 226,000-square-foot distribution center is largely dedicated to moving product, but does include 20,000 square feet of office. 

From the project’s inception, sustainability and LEED Silver Certification were top priorities to meet The Coca-Cola Company’s environmental goals. Through its “Live Positively” initiative, sustainability is engrained throughout the company’s corporate culture and marketing. “Live Positively” act as the foundation of its commitment to making a positive difference in the world and focuses on seven core areas key to business sustainability: Workplace, Beverage Benefits, Active Healthy Living, Community, Water Stewardship, Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection, and Sustainable Packaging. 

Features key to achieving LEED Silver included the project’s innovative daylighting strategies, which accounted for 15 LEED energy points alone. The new distribution center features a fully day-lit interior, using perimeter clerestory windows and daylighting tubes with daylighting sensors. The combination of these technologies virtually eliminates the need for artificial lighting during daytime building operations. The project also features a rooftop photovoltaic array on more than 40 percent of the roof. Together, the photovoltaics, lighting systems, and high performance HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units are saving over a million kWh of electricity, almost 900,000 therms of gas, and producing almost 590,000 kWh of power annually. The energy saved is the equivalent of annual energy used by almost 1300 cars or 500 homes, according to U.S. EPA calculations. 

In addition, water efficient plumbing fixtures have reduced water usage by 35 percent of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. A white roof mitigates heat island effect and interior finishes include both renewable and regionally manufactured materials. 

To share the impact of the building’s sustainable design, KSS also worked with Coca-Cola Refreshments to design interpretive signage for throughout the facility highlighting its “Live Positively” strategies and the sustainable techniques employed. 

With a fast-paced construction schedule of less than one year, the new Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center for Forsgate Industrial Partners exemplifies a cost-effective, efficient, sustainable and high-performance design solution for the industrial sector. 

The process of incorporating sustainability into the development of warehouse and distribution centers has been multifaceted. Through the meeting of industry minds in collaboration, the demands of the marketplace, corporate and project initiatives – such as the Coca-Cola Refreshments Distribution Center, and by the LEED system recognizing some of the unique sustainable qualities of this building type, industrial development has become and will remain a vital component to the sustainable landscape.

Scot Murdoch contributed to this article.